Last updated on Jun 21st, 2021 at 12:15 pm
Childhood fears and anxiety are not only common, but expected throughout all developmental stages
Meeting strangers, going to school for the first time, or writing a test are all examples of situations which can trigger feelings of apprehension, fear and panic in children.
This article looks at some common fears and how you can help your child navigate through them
Newborn babies and infants (0-2 years old) tend to prefer their parents and primary caregivers over unfamiliar voices and faces. Children this age often experience stranger and separation anxiety – where they shy away from, or are afraid of people they do not know.
Things that can help include:
- Comforting and soothing your child to make them feel safe
- Helping them get to know other people in your presence
- Teaching them that separation from you is temporary (peek-a-boo is a great game to teach this!)
- Saying goodbye to your child instead of “running away” when they are distracted – you do not want to cause trust issues
Toddlers and pre-schoolers (3-6 years old) have a very active imagination and often make up wild and exaggerated scenarios in their little minds. They tend to worry about being separated from their parents, the dark, nightmares, monsters, bad guys and animal attacks, among other things.
Alleviate your child’s fears by:
- Listening to what they are scared of and helping them put their fear into words or pictures
- Helping your child face their fears (e.g. shopping for a nightlight together or searching for monsters before bedtime)
- Reassuring your child of real-life facts (e.g. there are policemen who protect us from bad guys)
Positively reinforcing the courage and bravery that they show
Middle childhood (6-9 years old) are school-going children, who tend to worry about this new experience where they will be separated from their parents in the “real world”. They may worry about their teachers liking them, something happening to their parents, getting sick or scary situations they hear about.
Make sure that you:
- Encourage your child to talk about what they are thinking or feeling
- Read them stories or articles which can normalise their feelings
- Remind your child that they can cope by using past examples
- Reassure them to talk to their teachers if something happens at school
Pre-teens (10-12 years old) know that monsters aren’t real but start to worry about things that can happen in real life. For example, their lives being in danger, natural disasters or losing their parents. They may also worry about their academic performance and fitting in with peers.
Help your pre-teens by:
- Encouraging them to gather facts (e.g. the chances of them not doing well compared to the effort they put in)
- Helping them prepare for tests, presentations and performances
- Keeping track of what they are being exposed to (social media, TV, music)
- Encouraging them to externalise their thoughts and feelings through writing, music or movement/sport
Adolescents (13+ years old) tend to become more peer-oriented – their focus is on how they are being perceived by others, friendships and romantic interests.
They may also start to worry about “growing up”, their health and well-being, and their purpose as an adult in the bigger world.
Motivate your teens by:
- Encouraging them to open up about their concerns or worries
- Allowing them to privately process their own thoughts and feelings (e.g. through journaling or art)
- Advising them to reach out to others if they cannot talk to you about certain things
- Reinforcing any positive behaviour and progress they show
While these are all very common, anxiety develops when these fears increase in severity. If a fearful response is out of proportion to the situation, if it persists or if it interferes with normal functioning, this may be an indication to reach out for parental guidance and support on how to manage this.